PHILADELPHIA -- When the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation was created in 2005, the goal was to use hockey as a way to help in-need children around the Philadelphia region.
In the nine years that have passed since, the foundation has grown to serve more than 3,000 children at rinks in Philadelphia and New Jersey. The foundation also has renovated and assumed management of five Philadelphia-owned ice rinks.
Another milestone was reached Thursday when six of the top prospects for the 2014 NHL Draft -- Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart, Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl, Oshawa Generals left wing Michael Dal Colle and Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo -- helped run a clinic for about 40 Snider Hockey kids at Scanlon Rink in the Kensington section of the city.
"I never thought this kind of thing would happen," said Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who created the ESYHF. "I'm thrilled that they are here. This is a thrilling day for Snider Hockey, this is a thrilling day for hockey in Philly and I'm just excited."
Scanlon was one of three rinks the foundation took over from the city in 2008, and in November 2010 an agreement with the city was reached that would allow the foundation to renovate and enclose Scanlon, the Laura Sims Skatehouse and the Rink at Simons Recreation and Teen Access Center. The improvements, which took about a year to complete, allowed for the rink to be used year-round, and also included added public space, classrooms and learning labs. Since then the foundation has made similar improvements at two other facilities, Rizzo Rink and Tarken Ice Rink.
"It's a thrill for me," Snider said. "First of all, the rink [Scanlon], as you can see, is magnificent. It was a dump when we took it over; now we can use it year-round. These kids, you can see how they've responded. They never knew what ice was. Now they love it. They can't wait to get on the ice. They're getting good grades in order to stay on the ice. It's a wonderful thing to see the progress they've made."
The youngsters at the clinic ranged in age from 7 to 14, and all came from the neighborhood.
"We really have focused with the location of the city rinks that we renovated … the whole idea was to produce a neighborhood-based program so kids could walk to us from their homes, walk to us from their schools," foundation president Scott Tharp said. "That we would become a safe haven right in their neighborhoods. The kids here today are all from this Kensington area."
In addition to hockey camps and clinics, the foundation fields teams at different age levels that play in the competitive Delaware Valley Hockey League, and that has helped produce quality hockey players that already have made rosters of NCAA teams.
To take part in the on-ice activities the kids must maintain a certain grade-point average, and one of the driving principles of the foundation is to provide expanded educational opportunities.
"We're constantly striving to widen the breadth and depth of our programs," Tharp said. "Not only adding more kids, but providing more for the kids that we have. Just this year we've made it a priority to no longer hang our hat on our graduation rate from high school, but to continue giving our kids the support they need to complete their post-secondary programs. Our end-game is to make sure that we make them work-force ready so they come back and be productive citizens."
That process is well underway, but Tharp knows there's more that can, and will, be done.
"There's still a lot of work for us," he said. "We are very proud of what we've accomplished. I've always felt that the moment you think you've reached your pinnacle you're on your downside. I think we've got a long, long way to go."